Of Governors & Their Ways

This institution of Governor has been used as a political arm twister by the powers that be for the past 6 decades, and what we witnessed post the Karnataka elections pales before the ignominious episodes seen in years past. The Congress tried to play the victim card without realising that they had politicised the Governor’s office over the last 7 decades and that it has set the benchmark by which other parties will be judged.

Indira Gandhi converted the gubernatorial office into a political play field which was used to topple elected non Congress governments at the drop of a hat & she had the dubious distinction of dismissing 50 non-Congress governments during her rule.

The Janata Party under Moraraji Desai provided the Congress party a taste of its own medicine by removing Congress ruled governments in 12 states in one year by abusing the governor’s office, when they came to power in 1977, only to face the same wrath in 9 States when Mrs Gandhi returned to power in 1980.

In the Sonia Gandhi era, the actions of Congress-appointed or Congress-leaning governors like Romesh Bhandari, Buta Singh, Syed Sibtey Razi, HR Bhardwaj etc. will be forever a blot on our democracy.

With article 356 being invoked & misused frequently by all political parties when they have been at the helm, the august office of the governor has been reduced to that of a political henchman which is a tragedy for our democracy.

In our constitution, most of the time the governor’s role has been ceremonial in nature & the huge expenses incurred on the office are a drain on the state exchequer. Karnataka has had a taste of the governor’s interference 6 times prior to the recent drama and Tamil Nadu has tasted the governor’s intervention at the behest of the Central government 2 times.

Though some sanity has returned after the landmark S R Bommai judgement in 1994 by the Supreme Court & the Sarkaria Commission guidelines for hung assemblies ,the governor’s office remains under the direct influence of the Central government because of their powers of appointing governor’s of their choice.

In Karnataka, to be fair to Governor Vajibhai Vala, he went by the Sarkaria Commission guidelines of inviting the single largest party to form the government in the absence of any pre poll alliance of parties but erred by giving 15 days to conduct the floor test. The governor could have ordered a floor test earlier ( 3 days) and in the event of the single largest party (BJP) failing the floor test, the post poll alliance of Congress & JD(s) should have been called to prove their majority as per the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission report on hung assemblies which was upheld by the Supreme Court in Rameshwar Prasad vs Union of India case in 2005.

The alacrity with which the Supreme Court intervened in Karnataka was less forthcoming in the 70’s & 80’s when the governor’s office was used to settle political scores with monotonous regularity. Even now, while the Court ordered BS Yedyurappa to conduct the floor test within 24 hours after a midnight hearing, it did not care to pass any such orders or even listen to a petition challenging the opportunist JDS-Congress post-poll alliance.

Who will govern the governors is the big question; and in the absence of self regulation by the incumbents & their succumbing to political pressures, won’t it be prudent to do away with this gubernatorial dispensation which is anyway a colonial hangover?


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About the Author

Aman Gupta
Political Editor, Samast Bharat magazine